EDITORIAL: Huge homeless population needs to be addressed

More than 4,500 King County residents are homeless, up 19 percent from last year, according to last week’s One Night Count, an annual effort to account for the county’s homeless population.

On Vashon, volunteers counted 38 homeless individuals on the streets or curled up in cars or sheds. One of those volunteers was Vashon Youth & Family Services Executive Director Kathleen Johnson, who said the situation is intolerable and that “we should be ashamed of ourselves that we have homeless.”

It is easy to see the homeless problem and its far-reaching consequences. What is harder to see is a solution to the problem. The One Night Count itself was created with the intention of bringing funding to the issue. Eden Bossom, an islander and King County Housing Authority employee, said that the count is mandated for receiving federal funds. But what should King County do with federal funds or any money that it receives?

The Seattle Times editorial board had an idea that was published Monday: Create legislation to make it easier to open host homes for homeless youth and fund more of said homes. According to the article, Washington funds just 23 beds in youth homeless shelters, leaving most youths couch surfing from friend to friend until they end up on the street. The process of becoming a host home is long and complicated, and the Times’ editorial board is calling for Olympia lawmakers to address exempting host homes from foster care licensing.

But if that idea would help some homeless youth, what about homeless adults? Especially veterans and the mentally ill, who make up a large majority of the population on the streets. What do we do for them?

There is an effort by many sheriff’s departments, including one in Southern California, to send deputies out to homeless camps not with the intention of destroying them, but with the intent of finding and connecting the homeless with resources. It’s one of many departments practicing “proactive enforcement.” But many other homeless with criminal backgrounds or those who choose to live on the fringes of society, they do not want help.

There is a population of homeless people who are content with their lives and unwilling to accept help because it would mean becoming a part of society, paying taxes, working, doing what people in a society don’t like doing. And who are we to tell them they have to conform?

This population should also be a focus of potential solutions. When a society exists where people choose to leave it or get lost trying to navigate it for help, it points to a much larger problem that goes to the roots of our government’s welfare, veteran and support programs.


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